States in the Obamacare lawsuit are biting the hand that feeds them

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2018/12/20/the-health-202-states-in-the-obamacare-lawsuit-are-biting-the-hand-that-feeds-them/5c1a559e1b326b2d6629d4f8/?utm_term=.48253007006e

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Obamacare is precarious yet entrenched as 2019 approaches. Even many of the GOP-led states seeking to knock it down in court would be in a real bind should they succeed.

Of the 20 states involved in a high-profile Texas-led lawsuit arguing the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, nearly half have already accepted its extra dollars to expand their Medicaid programs or are moving that direction. States don’t have to expand Medicaid under a 2012 Supreme Court decision, but most have found it advantageous because the federal government foots most of the bill.

These states — nine in total — would suddenly be facing a much larger expense for hundreds of thousands of low-income earners newly enrolled in Medicaid under the ACA, should last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor rolling back the entire health-care law ultimately stand.

They include Louisiana, North Dakota and West Virginia, along with Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana, three states that expanded Medicaid but with some modifications. In three other states — Maine, Nebraska and Utah — voters approved ballot initiatives adopting expansion.

Yet these states are asking the courts to overthrow not just Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions – the part of the lawsuit that has gotten the most attention — but also the entire sweeping law, which is now firmly a part of the country’s health-care ecosystem eight years since its passage. More than 12 million people have become eligible for Medicaid since ACA passage, while another 11 million have enrolled in the ACA’s federally subsidized private marketplaces.

“God help us all, because the dark age is not that far from us again,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). “It will be worse than before because there won’t be the money to help rural clinics and hospitals.”

Developments in the past week — including the court ruling and slightly lagging marketplace enrollment figures released yesterday by the Trump administration — underscore the political divides dogging Obamacare even though Republicans in Congress and at the state level have embraced some of its major components.

Nearly 8.5 million people signed up for 2019 plans in the 39 states using the HealthCare.gov website (the other states run their own marketplaces), per figures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Enrollment was just 4 percent less than a year ago, due to a last-minute rush that suggests consumers were undeterred by the court ruling, our Washington Post colleague Amy Goldstein reports.

“After lagging by about 11 percent most of the six weeks of open enrollment — a shortened period adopted by the Trump administration a year ago — the more than 400,000 who selected coverage during the final week actually exceeded the year before,” Amy writes.

CMS Administrator Seema Verma seemed unperturbed by the reduced enrollment numbers, saying they merely show new GOP and administration policies to roll back some ACA requirements on insurers and consumers are working.

But if the entire law gets scrapped by the Supreme Court ( we should note, the case still has a long way to go in the legal system), it will quickly become clear the ACA — for whatever its faults — has extended benefits to Americans they’ve now come to expect. Despite their persistent rhetoric against the law, Republicans have found it politically necessary to embrace big parts of it, including its protections for people with preexisting conditions — and, in some states, its Medicaid expansion.

Case in point: West Virginia. Its Republican attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, has joined the lawsuit against Obamacare even though the state embraced its Medicaid expansion, growing its enrollment in the program by nearly one-third.The federal government covers more than 90 percent of the cost of the newly eligible enrollees.

When I asked Morrisey’s office about what striking the ACA would mean for Medicaid recipients, his office provided a statement praising O’Connor’s ruling and discussing premium hikes in the marketplaces — but didn’t mention Medicaid.

“Our nation must move beyond Obamacare, innovate, provide more choices to consumers, and attack the skyrocketing premiums that have caused such pain and hardship on West Virginian and American families,” the statement said.

In some cases, the decisions by state attorneys general to join the anti-ACA lawsuit has put them at odds with their governor. Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, moved quickly to expand Medicaid when he took office in 2016. Nearly half a million people have enrolled in Medicaid since then, growing the state’s program by 27 percent.

Edwards hasn’t hidden his disdain for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R), who has called the law an “unconstitutional overreach.” Edwards issued a critical statement after last Friday’s decision.

“This was a short-sighted lawsuit, to say the least,” Edwards said in a statement. “I intend to vigorously pursue legislation to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance and ensuring the working people of our state aren’t penalized because of this decision.”

 

20% of Americans are deferring healthcare because of cost, poll finds

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/20-of-americans-are-deferring-healthcare-because-of-cost-poll-finds.html?origin=rcme&utm_source=rcme

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Americans are delaying medical care as they struggle with its affordability, according to the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll.   

The survey of more than 3,000 U.S. households in July found about 20 percent of respondents or someone in their household had postponed or canceled a healthcare service due to cost in the prior three months. 

Younger respondents were more likely to put off their healthcare needs. Thirty-four percent of respondents under 35 said they deterred care because of cost, compared with 8 percent of respondents 65 and older.

The poll also found 26 percent of respondents or someone in their household had difficulty paying for some type of healthcare service in the prior three months.

Again, younger respondents were more likely to experience trouble. Forty-one percent of respondents under 35 said they or a member of their household struggled to pay for a healthcare service, compared to 11 percent of respondents 65 and older and 26 percent of respondents ages 35 to 64.

The poll found 66 percent of respondents said they received a prescription in the prior three months, and 97 percent of those respondents had it filled. Of the respondents who said they had a prescription filled, 19 percent reported they had trouble paying for it.

Access the full poll results here.

 

The Cost of Employer Insurance Is a Growing Burden for Middle-Income Families

https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2018/dec/cost-employer-insurance-growing-burden-middle-income-families

middle-income family shops for groceries

Recent national surveys show health care costs are a top concern in U.S. households.1 While the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces receive a lot of media and political attention, the truth is that far more Americans get their coverage through employers. In 2017, more than half (56%) of people under age 65 — about 152 million people — had insurance through an employer, either their own or a family member’s.2 In contrast, only 9 percent had a plan purchased on the individual market, including the marketplaces.

In this brief, we use the latest data from the federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Insurance Component (MEPS–IC) to examine trends in employer premiums at the state level to see how much workers and their families are paying for their employer coverage in terms of premium contributions and deductibles. We examine the size of these costs relative to income for those at the midrange of income distribution. The MEPS–IC is the most comprehensive national survey of U.S. employer health plans. It surveyed more than 40,000 business establishments in 2017, with an overall response rate of 65.8 percent.

Highlights

  • After climbing modestly between 2011 and 2016, average premiums for employer health plans rose sharply in 2017. Annual single-person premiums climbed above $7,000 in eight states; family premiums were $20,000 or higher in seven states and D.C.
  • Rising overall employer premiums increased the amount that workers and their families contribute. Average annual premium contributions for single-person plans ranged from $675 in Hawaii to $1,747 in Massachusetts; family plans ranged from $3,646 in Michigan to $6,533 in Delaware.
  • Average employee premium contributions across single and family plans amounted to 6.9 percent of U.S. median income in 2017, up from 5.1 percent in 2008. In 11 states, premium contributions were 8 percent of median income or more, with a high of 10.2 percent in Louisiana.
  • The average annual deductible for single-person policies rose to $1,808 in 2017, ranging from a low of $863 in Hawaii to a high of about $2,300 in Maine and New Hampshire. Average deductibles across single and family plans amounted to 4.8 percent of median income in 2017, up from 2.7 percent in 2008. In three states (Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee), average deductibles comprised more than 6 percent of median income.
  • Combined, average employee premium contributions and potential out-of-pocket spending to meet deductibles across single and family policies rose to $7,240 in 2017 and was $8,000 or more in eight states. Nationally, this potential spending amounted to 11.7 percent of median income in 2017, up from 7.8 percent a decade earlier. In Louisiana and Mississippi, these combined costs rose to 15 percent or more of median income.

 

 

 

 

Federal Subsidies Could Expand to Health Programs That Violate Obamacare

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 The Trump administration said Thursday that states could bypass major requirements of the Affordable Care Act by using federal funds for a wide range of health insurance programs that do not comply with the law.

Federal officials encouraged states to seek waivers from provisions of the law that specify who is eligible for premium subsidies, how much they get and what medical benefits they receive.

It was “a mistake to federalize so much of health care policy under the Affordable Care Act,” Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told state officials at a conference in Washington.

The new policy outlined by the administration on Thursday upends a premise of the Affordable Care Act: that federal subsidies can be used only for insurance that meets federal standards and is purchased through public marketplaces, also known as insurance exchanges.

Under the new policy, states could use federal subsidies to help people pay for employer-sponsored insurance. Consumers could combine federal funds with employer contributions to buy other types of insurance.

Under the Affordable Care Act, premium tax credits are available to people with incomes up to four times the poverty level, roughly $83,000 a year for a family of three. With a waiver, states could provide assistance to higher-income families.

The Trump administration laid out templates for state programs — waiver concepts — that could significantly depart from the model enacted by Congress in 2010.

Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said states could use the suggestions to “create more choices and greater flexibility in their health insurance markets, helping to bring down costs and expand access to care.”

Democrats assailed the initiative as an audacious effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act. And they said the administration was ignoring the midterm election success of Democrats who had promised to defend health care that they said was threatened by President Trump and Republicans in Congress.

“The American people just delivered an overwhelming verdict against Republicans’ cruel assault on families’ health care,” said the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California. “But instead of heeding the will of the people or the requirements of the law, the Trump administration is still cynically working to make health insurance more expensive and to leave more Americans without dependable coverage.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, said the administration was creating a fast lane for swift approval of “junk insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing medical conditions. At campaign rallies this fall, Mr. Trump repeatedly promised: “We will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. Always.”

Ms. Verma said Thursday that “the A.C.A.’s pre-existing condition protections cannot be waived.

But states could use federal funds to subsidize short-term plans and “association health plans,” in which employers band together to provide coverage for employees. Such plans are free to limit or omit coverage of benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, such as mental health care, emergency services and prescription drugs.

A provision of the Affordable Care Act allows waivers for innovations in state health policy. The federal law stipulates that state programs must provide coverage that is “at least as comprehensive” as that available under the Affordable Care Act and must cover “at least a comparable number” of people.

Two powerful House Democrats said the new guidance issued by the Trump administration was illegal because it did not meet the standards for waivers set forth in the Affordable Care Act.

“It is contrary to the plain language of the statute, and it appears to be part of the administration’s ideologically motivated efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” said a letter sent to Mr. Azar by Representatives Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey and Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts.

In issuing the guidance, they said, Mr. Azar also violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally requires agencies to provide an opportunity for public comment before adopting new rules.

Republican governors have been pleading with federal officials to give states more authority to regulate health insurance.

Paul Edwards, a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, a Republican, said, “Utah welcomes all efforts that give us maximum flexibility to structure our health care programs to the unique needs of our citizens.” State officials “will look closely at how these new rules could benefit Utahns,” he said.

Brenna Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican, said the governor “has a proven track record of expanding health care options for Iowans and is eager to see the new opportunities this proposal might open up.”

Iowa tried last year to get a waiver under Obama-era guidance, seeking essentially to opt out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace by offering customers a single plan with lower premiums and a high deductible.

Ms. Reynolds ultimately withdrew the request in frustration, saying at the time that “Obamacare’s waiver rules are as inflexible as the law itself.”

One option for states is to take federal funds and put the money into accounts that consumers could use to pay insurance premiums or medical expenses.

Likewise, Ms. Verma said: “States can develop a new state premium subsidy structure and decide how premium subsidies should be targeted. States can set the rules for what type of health plan is eligible for state premium subsidies.”

She was speaking Thursday at a conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that promotes limited government and drafts model legislation.

 

New insurance guidelines would undermine rules of the Affordable Care Act

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/new-insurance-guidelines-would-undermine-rules-of-the-affordable-care-act/2018/11/29/ff467f46-f357-11e8-aeea-b85fd44449f5_story.html?utm_term=.c279fcb895a6&wpisrc=al_news__alert-hse–alert-national&wpmk=1

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The Trump administration is urging states to tear down pillars of the Affordable Care Act, demolishing a basic rule that federal insurance subsidies can be used only for people buying health plans in marketplaces created under the law.

According to advice issued Thursday by federal health officials, states would be free to redefine the use of those subsidies, which began in 2014. They represent the first help the government ever has offered middle-class consumers to afford monthly premiums for private insurance.

States could allow the subsidies to be used for health plans the administration has been promoting outside the ACA marketplaces that are less expensive because they provide skimpier benefits and fewer consumer protections. In an even more dramatic change, states could let residents with employer-based coverage set up accounts in which they mingle the federal subsidies with health-care funds from their job or personal tax-deferred savings funds to use for premiums or other medical expenses.

If some states take up the administration’s offer, it would undermine the ACA’s central changes to the nation’s insurance system, including the establishment of nationwide standards for many kinds of health coverage sold in the United States.

Another goal of the ACA, the sprawling 2010 law that was President Barack Obama’s preeminent domestic accomplishment, was to concentrate help on the individual insurance market serving people who do not have access to affordable health benefits through a job. Prices were often out of control and discrimination against unhealthy people was more prevalent before the ACA imposed required benefits, prohibited insurers from charging more to people with preexisting conditions and created a federal health exchange and similar state-run marketplace in which private insurance companies compete for customers.

The ACA health plans have been the only ones for which consumers can use the subsidies, designed to help customers with incomes up to the middle class — 400 percent of the federal poverty line — afford the premiums.

The new advice, called “waiver concepts” because they are ideas for how states could get federal permission to deviate from the law’s basic rules, stray from both of those goals. And it would allow states to set different income limits for the subsidies — higher or lower than the federal one.

The day before they were released by Seema Verma, administrator of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an analysis by the Brookings Institution questioned the legality of the content and method of these concepts. The analysis by Christen Linke Young, a Brookings fellow and HHS employee during the Obama administration, contends that “there are serious questions” about whether the changes are allowable under the law and that “at the very least, it is likely invalid” for CMS to issue the advice to states without going through the formal steps to change federal regulations.

In a statement Thursday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said: “The Trump administration is committed to empowering states to think creatively about how to secure quality, affordable healthcare choices for their citizens.” He said the four recommendations issued Thursday, including new accounts in which consumers could pool federal subsidies and other funds, are intended to “show how state governments can work with HHS to create more choices and greater flexibility in their health insurance markets, helping to bring down costs and expand access to care.”

In a midday speech before a gathering of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, Verma delivered a broadside against the health-care law in explaining the rationale for freeing states to rework health policies on their own. “It was such a mistake to federalize so much of health care in the ACA,” said Verma, who worked as a consultant to states before becoming one of Trump’s senior health-care advisers. While the law sought to make health coverage more available and affordable, she said, “the insurance problem has not been solved. For many Americans it’s even been made worse.”

In urging states to consider the changes, CMS is renaming a provision of the law, known as 1332, which until now has mainly been used to give states permission to create programs to ease the burden on insurers of high-cost customers. CMS is switching the name to “State Relief and Empowerment Waivers,” emphasizing the administration’s desire to hand off health-care policies to states.

The changes go beyond a variety of other steps Trump administration health officials have taken in the past year to weaken the ACA, which the president has opposed vociferously.

Until now, they have focused on bending the ACA’s rules for health plans themselves. The administration has rewritten regulations to make it easier for Americans to buy two types of insurance that is relatively inexpensive because it does not contain all the benefits and consumer protections that the ACA typically requires.

The new steps go further by undercutting the basic ACA structure of the individual insurance marketplaces created for those who cannot get affordable health benefits through a job.

During a conference call with journalists, Verma said that no state would be allowed to retreat from a popular aspect of the ACA that protects people with preexisting medical conditions from higher prices or an inability to buy coverage.

She said that, in evaluating states’ proposals, CMS would focus on several considerations, including whether changes would foster comprehensive coverage and affordability and would not increase the federal deficit. She said federal officials would favor proposals that help, in particular, low-income residents and people with complex medical problems.

Verma reiterated an administration talking point that insurance rates have escalated since the ACA was passed and that health plan choices within ACA marketplaces have dwindled. However, the current ACA enrollment period, lasting until mid-December, is different from the previous few because prices for the most popular tier of coverage have stabilized in many places and more insurers are taking part in the marketplaces.

 

ACA Slow Enrollment as Uninsured Rate Remains Steady

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20181120.831184/full/

Image result for ACA Slow Enrollment as Uninsured Rate Remains Steady

In most states across the country, the open enrollment period for 2019 began on November 1 and will end on December 15, 2018. As we near the halfway point for enrollment—at least for the states with a federal marketplace—recent federal data suggests that enrollment in Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace plans is lagging relative to last year.

In its “week 2” enrollment snapshot, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that nearly 1.2 million consumers selected a plan between November 1 and November 10 in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov. Of these consumers, about 275,000 were new consumers while about 901,000 were renewing their coverage from last year. This reflects a significant increase from the first three days of open enrollment when about 371,000 consumers selected a plan.

“Week 2” plan selections are down by about 302,000 consumers relative to last year. This can be read as between an 8 to 13 percent decline in plan selections compared to last year, when a total of 11.8 million consumers in all 50 states and DC selected or were automatically reenrolled in a marketplace plan. Enrollment remained largely stable from 2017 to 2018 despite a shortened open enrollment period and significant cuts to advertising and navigator funding.

This year, however, brings additional changes that could be contributing to what is, at least so far, depressed enrollment through HealthCare.gov. These changes include repeal of the individual mandate penalty; 2019 is the first year that consumers will no longer pay a penalty for being uninsured under the ACA. In addition, new federal rules are enabling expanded access to non-ACA plans (such as short-term, limited-duration insurance and association health plans). These non-ACA plans typically have a much lower premium than ACA plans and could lure consumers away from the marketplace.

It is too early to tell if the reduced enrollment trend will hold and if this pattern will continue. Enrollment may increase significantly before the December 15 deadline, and millions of Americans will enroll in coverage before the end of the year.

The declines are, however, significant. The former chief marketing officer for HealthCare.gov recently noted that the data “should be a wake-up call to everyone who cares about people having health care … on the need to step up efforts to raise awareness.” CMS intends to release enrollment snapshots on a weekly basis. Each snapshot also includes point-in-time estimates of call center activity and visits to HealthCare.gov and CuidadoDeSalud.gov, among other data.

The new open enrollment data comes at a time when the uninsured rate continues to remain steady. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics—in reports both from late August and November—shows that the uninsured rate of about 8.8 percent for 2018 remains largely unchanged from 2017. Although there was not a significant shift from 2017 to 2018, there has been a sizable drop in the uninsured rate since the ACA was enacted in 2010. Between 2010 and the first six months of 2018, the uninsured rate dropped from 16 percent (48.6 million people) to 8.8 percent (28.5 million people).

 

 

Can a Divided Congress Fix Health Care?

https://www.kff.org/health-reform/poll-finding/kff-health-tracking-poll-november-2018-priorities-congress-future-aca-medicaid-expansion/

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s latest tracking poll finds that costs and affordability are the health care issues Americans most want Congress to address — though the public remains highly skeptical that Democrats and Republicans can actually work together to do anything on health care.

The poll also finds that the favorability of the Affordable Care Act has risen to 53 percent and that 59 percent of people living in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA want such an expansion.

Key Findings:

  • The November KFF Health Tracking Poll, conducted the week after the 2018 midterm election, finds a majority of the public wants the new Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to work with Republicans on legislation to address the major problems facing the country as well as conduct oversight of the Trump administration’s actions on policies such as health care. Yet, few Americans are “very confident” (6 percent) that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will be able to work on bipartisan legislation to address the health care issues facing the country.
  • The midterm elections brought Medicaid expansion to three additional states, bringing the total number of states that have expanded their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income uninsured adults to 37 (including Washington, D.C.). Those living in states that have not expanded their Medicaid programs continue to hold a favorable view of Medicaid expansion and most would like to see their state expand their Medicaid program. And as a possible indicator of how some other states may expand their Medicaid programs in the future, most of those living in a non-expansion state say that if their state government chooses not to expand, voters themselves should be able to decide if their state expands their Medicaid program.
  • The new Democratic majority in the House all but guarantees the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remain the law of the land for at least the next two years. The most recent tracking poll finds a slight uptick – largely driven by Democrats – in the overall favorability of the law (53 percent) and many of the ACA’s provisions continue to be quite popular with a majority of the public. But the poll also finds the public is largely unaware about the law’s sixth open enrollment period, and four in ten 18-64 year olds who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say they will choose to go without coverage in 2019.

    Most Americans say it is “very important” to keep the ACA provisions barring insurers from denying coverage or charging more (62%) to people with pre-existing conditions, even after hearing that these may have increased costs for some healthy people

  • A divided Congress does not mean that the coming year will not see any changes to the country’s health care system. There is an impending lawsuit, Texas v. United States, which may end the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions as well as the Trump administration’s recent actions allowing employers to be exempt from covering the full cost of birth control for their employees if they oppose to it due to religious or moral reasons, which could lead to substantial changes to health coverage for many Americans. This month’s tracking poll examines the public’s support for these proposed changes and examines the malleability of these opinions.

The Public’s Priorities for Next Congress

With Democratic gains in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2018 midterm election, Democrats and Republicans will split control of Congress next year. These results will mean that President Trump will have a divided Congress for the first time in his presidency. About half of the public (53 percent) say oversight of the Trump administration’s actions on policies such as health care, education, and the environment should be a “top priority” for House Democrats in the coming year. This is similar to the share (55 percent) who say that working to enact new laws to address the major problems facing the country should be a “top priority” for House Democrats in the coming year and substantially larger than the share who say investigating corruption within President Trump’s administration should be a “top priority” (36 percent).

Majority of The Public Say Working To Enact New Legislation And Oversight Are Top Priorities For Democrats

Figure 1: Majority of The Public Say Working To Enact New Legislation And Oversight Are Top Priorities For Democrats

Unsurprisingly, the share of partisans who say each of these should be a “top priority” for Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives varies drastically; majorities of Democrats saying conducting oversight (77 percent), working to enact legislation (67 percent), and investigating corruption (58 percent) should all be top priorities for the coming year. A majority of independents (54 percent) say working to enact legislation should be a “top priority,” while less than half of Republicans say any of these – including working to enact legislation – should be “a top priority” for House Democrats.

Figure 2: Most Democrats Say New Legislation, Oversight, and Investigating Corruption Are Top Priorities For House Democrats

Figure 2: Most Democrats Say New Legislation, Oversight, and Investigating Corruption Are Top Priorities For House Democrats

Immigration and Health Care Top Public’s Priorities

Similar to the issues driving voters in the 2018 midterm elections, the most recent KFF Health Tracking Poll finds immigration and health care as the top issues the public want to see the next Congress act on in 2019 with the issues offered largely driven by party identification. Overall, about one-fifth of voters offer immigration or border security (21 percent) when asked to say in their own words the issue Congress should work on next year. This is similar to the share of the public who offer health care (20 percent) as the top issue they want to see the next Congress work on. Fewer offer gun control/legislation (8 percent), tax reform (4 percent), or education (4 percent) as the issues they want to see Congress act on in 2019.

Four times as many Republicans (41 percent) offer immigration/border security as the issue they would most like the next Congress to act on in 2019 as Democrats (10 percent). On the other hand, health care is the top issue for Democrats. One-fourth of Democrats (27 percent) say health care is the issue they would most like to see the next Congress act on, compared to 11 percent of Republicans who say the same. Independents are divided across the top two issues, with similar shares offering immigration/border security (22 percent) and health care (21 percent) as the issues they want to see Congress work on.

Table 1: Immigration and Health Care Top Public’s Priorities for Next Congress
Thinking about next year, which issue would you most like the next Congress to act on in 2019? (open-end) Total Democrats Independents Republicans
Immigration/Border security 21% 10% 22% 41%
Health care 20 27 21 11
Gun control/legislation 8 13 4 8
Tax reform 4 2 7 8
Education 4 7 2
Note: Only top five responses shown. Question asked of half sample.
COST AND AFFORDABILITY CONTINUES TO DOMINATE HEALTH CARE PRIORITIES

When asked which health care issue they would most like to see the next Congress act on in 2019, more Americans offer issues around health care affordability and cost (19 percent) than other health care issues including the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) (10 percent) or Medicare (6 percent). Health care affordability and cost are also the most frequently mentioned health care issues by Democrats (14 percent), independents (25 percent), and Republicans (17 percent). The ACA is the second most frequently mentioned health care issue among partisans, with Democrats saying they want to see Congress “protecting or improving the ACA” while Republicans say they want to see the next Congress “repealing the ACA.” Independents are divided on this issue, with similar shares saying they want to see Congress repealing and protecting the 2010 health care law.

Figure 3: Cost And Affordability Top Public’s Health Care Priorities For Next Congress

Figure 3: Cost And Affordability Top Public’s Health Care Priorities For Next Congress

While there appears to be consensus among the public on what health care issue they want to see Congress work on next year, not quite one-third are confident that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will be able to work together on bipartisan legislation to address the health care issues facing the country. In fact, seven in ten say they are either “not very confident” (34 percent) or “not at all confident” (35 percent) that Congress will be able to work on such bipartisan legislation, while fewer are confident, either “very confident” (six percent) or “somewhat confident” (24 percent), in Congress being able to work together.

Figure 4: Less Than One-Third Are Confident Congress Can Work Together To Address Health Care Issues Facing The Country

Figure 4: Less Than One-Third Are Confident Congress Can Work Together To Address Health Care Issues Facing The Country

Democrats are slightly more confident in the ability of Democrats and Republicans in Congress to be able to work together on bipartisan health care legislation (41 percent) compared to independents (27 percent) and Republicans (19 percent); yet, a majority across party identification say they are either “not very confident” or “not at all confident” (58 percent, 72 percent, and 79 percent, respectively).

The Future of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Expansion

The 2018 midterm elections have major implications for both the future of the 2010 health care law known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as one of its most popular provisions – individual state’s expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income people.

The Affordable Care Act

With Democrats regaining a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, and without continued efforts among Republicans to repeal the ACA, the latest KFF Tracking Poll finds a slight uptick in the public’s view of the law with 53 percent saying they view law favorably compared to four in ten who have an unfavorable view of the law. This slight shift is largely driven by Democrats with about eight in ten saying they have a favorable opinion of the law, including about half (48 percent) who have a “very favorable” view. Similarly, three-fourths of Republicans (76 percent) continue to view the law unfavorably with more than half (54 percent) saying they have a “very unfavorable” opinion of the law.

Figure 5: Post-Election Tracking Poll Finds Slight Uptick in ACA Favorability, Largely Driven By Democrats

Figure 5: Post-Election Tracking Poll Finds Slight Uptick in ACA Favorability, Largely Driven By Democrats

AMERICANS CONTINUE TO HOLD FAVORABLE OPINIONS OF ACA PROVISIONS

Similar to previous KFF Tracking Polls, many of the ACA’s provisions continue to be quite popular, even across party lines. A majority of the public – regardless of party identification – hold favorable views of all of the ACA’s provisions with one exception (fewer than half of Republicans say they have a favorable opinion of the Medicare payroll tax increases on earnings for upper-income Americans).

Table 2: Americans’ Opinions of ACA Provisions
Percent who say they have a FAVORABLE opinion of each of the following provisions of the law: Total Democrats Independents Republicans
Allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 82% 90% 82% 66%
Creates health insurance exchanges where small businesses and people can shop for insurance and compare prices and benefits 82 91 78 71
Provides financial help to low- and moderate-income Americans who don’t get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage 81 92 82 63
Gradually closes the Medicare prescription drug “doughnut hole” so people on Medicare will no longer be required to pay the full cost of their medications 81 85 82 80
Eliminates out-of-pocket costs for many preventive services 79 88 78 68
Gives states the option of expanding their existing Medicaid program to cover more low-income, uninsured adults 77 91 77 55
Requires employers with 50 or more employees to pay a fine if they don’t offer health insurance 69 88 61 56
Prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history 65 70 66 58
Increases the Medicare payroll tax on earnings for upper-income Americans 65 77 69 42
Note. Some items asked of half samples.

In previous KFF Health Tracking Polls, one of the ACA’s provisions – the individual mandate which required nearly all Americans have health insurance or pay a fine – was consistently viewed unfavorably by a majority of the public. As part of the federal tax bill passed in 2017, Congress zeroed out the dollar amount and percentage of income penalties imposed by the individual mandate. Overall, three in ten Americans (31 percent) are aware that Congress has gotten rid of the penalty for not having health insurance, while four in ten (38 percent) incorrectly say Congress has not gotten rid of this penalty and an additional three in ten (31 percent) are unsure. The results are similar among those under 65 years old who either buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured with three in ten (31 percent) aware Congress has gotten rid of the penalty for not having health insurance.

Figure 6: Most Americans Are Not Aware Congress Has Gotten Rid Of The Penalty For Not Having Health Insurance

Figure 6: Most Americans Are Not Aware Congress Has Gotten Rid Of The Penalty For Not Having Health Insurance

Medicaid Expansion

Three states (Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) voted during the 2018 election to expand their Medicaid program to cover more low-income residents, bringing the total number of states that have expanded their Medicaid programs to 37 states including Washington, D.C. Overall, about three-fourths of the public – including 77 percent of those living in non-expansion states – have a favorable view of the ACA’s provision that gives states the option of expanding their existing Medicaid program to cover more low-income, uninsured adults. In addition, a majority (59 percent) of those living in non-expansion states would like to see their state expand Medicaid to cover more low-income uninsured people while one-third (34 percent) say they want to see their state keep Medicaid as it is today. A majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they want to see their state expand Medicaid (84 percent) while most Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want to see their state keep Medicaid as it is today (65 percent).

Figure 7: Majority Of Residents In Non-Expansion States Want Their State To Expand Their Medicaid Programs

Figure 7: Majority Of Residents In Non-Expansion States Want Their State To Expand Their Medicaid Programs

Among those living in states without Medicaid expansion who want to see their state expand their Medicaid program, nearly nine in ten (51 percent of all residents living in non-expansion states) say that if their governor and state government choose not to expand Medicaid, voters themselves should be able to decide if their state expands Medicaid.

The ACA’s 2019 Open Enrollment Period

The ACA’s sixth open enrollment period for individuals who purchase health plans on their own began on November 2, 2018 and closes in most states on December 15, 2018.1 According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, as of November 21, 2018, 1.9 million people have signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace, which is slightly less than in previous years.2

The most recent KFF Tracking Poll finds a majority of the group most directly affected by open enrollment (those 18-64 years old who either purchase their own insurance or are currently uninsured) are unaware of the current open enrollment deadlines. About one-fourth (24 percent) of this group is aware of the current deadline to buy insurance for 2019 while six in ten (61 percent) say they “do not know” the deadline and 16 percent either offer the wrong date, incorrectly say there is no deadline or that the deadline has passed, or refuse to answer the question.

Figure 8: About One-Fourth Of Those Who Buy Their Own Insurance Or Are Uninsured Know Current Open Enrollment Deadline

Figure 8: About One-Fourth Of Those Who Buy Their Own Insurance Or Are Uninsured Know Current Open Enrollment Deadline

Slightly less than half (45 percent) of those 18-64 who either purchase their own insurance or are currently uninsured, say they have heard or seen any ads in the past thirty days from an insurance company attempting to sell health insurance. Fewer – about three in ten (31 percent) say they have heard or seen any information about how to get health insurance under the health care law.

IT IS STILL UNCLEAR HOW TWO MAJOR CHANGES TO ACA MARKETPLACES WILL AFFECT OPEN ENROLLMENT

This year’s open enrollment period has two major changes brought about by Republicans and President Trump’s administration: the removal of the penalty for not having health insurance and the introduction of short-term health insurance plans. About half of 18-64 year olds who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say they plan to buy their own insurance in 2019, despite the elimination of the fine for people who don’t have health insurance, while four in ten (42 percent) say they will choose to go without coverage in 2019.

Figure 9: Unclear How Changes To Individual Mandate Penalty And New Short-Term Plans May Affect Open Enrollment

Figure 9: Unclear How Changes To Individual Mandate Penalty And New Short-Term Plans May Affect Open Enrollment

One option available to those who buy their own insurance that would not have satisfied the ACA individual mandate in previous years are short-term health insurance plans. These plans cost significantly less than ACA-compliant plans but provide fewer benefits and may not pay for care for some pre-existing medical conditions.3 About one-fifth (21 percent) of those under the age of 65 who buy their own insurance or are currently uninsured say that if they had the opportunity, they would want to purchase a short-term plan. Seven in ten say they would either continue going without coverage or keep the plan they have now.

Public Support Trump Administration’s Actions on Prescription Drug Advertisements, Divided on Actions Aimed at Women’s Health and Pre-Existing Coverage

In recent months, the Trump administration has announced several actions aimed at different aspects of the U.S. health care system. The most recent KFF Tracking Poll finds the public supports the Trump administration’s proposed actions on prescription drug advertisements, even after hearing counter-arguments. The public is more divided on the administration’s actions on women’s health and protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADVERTISEMENTS

Earlier this year, President Trump announced a series of ideas aimed at lowering the price of prescription drugs. One of its key elements is to require drug manufacturers to publish list prices for their prescription drugs in television advertisements. About three-fourths (77 percent) favor the federal government requiring prescription drug advertisements to include a statement about how much the drug costs. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, this policy proposal is supported by a majority of Democrats (80 percent), independents (74 percent) and Republicans (77 percent).

Figure 10: Large Shares, Regardless Of Party, Favor Requiring Prescription Drug Advertisements To Include Pricing Information

Figure 10: Large Shares, Regardless Of Party, Favor Requiring Prescription Drug Advertisements To Include Pricing Information

After President Trump announced this proposal, there was some debate about how this could be implemented with opponents saying that since people often pay different prices for the same drug based on the type of insurance they have, including a price in a drug advertisement could be confusing to consumers. About one-fifth of those who originally supported this proposal change their minds after hearing this counter-argument, leaving a slight majority of the public (53 percent) continuing to support this proposal. On the other side of the debate, nearly half of those (7 percent of total) who originally opposed this proposal change their minds after hearing that putting the price of a drug in an advertisement would put pressure on drug companies to lower their prices.

Figure 11: Majority Of The Public Continue To Favor Putting Prices In Drug Advertisements Even After Hearing Counter-Arguments

Figure 11: Majority Of The Public Continue To Favor Putting Prices In Drug Advertisements Even After Hearing Counter-Arguments

EMPLOYER EXEMPTION FROM COVERING BIRTH CONTROL

On November 15, 2018, the Trump Administration issued final regulations expanding the types of employers that may be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive coverage requirement to all nonprofit and closely-held for-profit employers with objections to contraceptive coverage based on religious beliefs or moral convictions, including private institutions of higher education that issue student health plans.4 Overall, six in ten (57 percent) of the public, including most women, oppose allowing employers to be exempt from the requirement to cover the full cost of prescription birth control in their plans if they object to it for religious or moral reasons.

Figure 12: Majorities Across Groups – Except For Republicans – Oppose Allowing Employers To Be Exempt From Covering Birth Control

Figure 12: Majorities Across Groups – Except For Republicans – Oppose Allowing Employers To Be Exempt From Covering Birth Control

Few individuals, on either side of the debate, change their minds about employers being exempt from covering the cost of prescription birth control for religious or moral reasons after hearing counter-arguments. About one-fourth (9 percent of total) change their minds and now oppose employer exemptions after hearing that this means some women would not be able to afford birth control. On the other side of the argument, one in eight (7 percent of total) now favor this exemption if they heard that some business owners feel like they are being forced to pay for a benefit that violates their religious or moral beliefs.

Figure 13: Few, On Either Side Of Debate, Change Minds About Employer Birth Control Coverage After Hearing Counter-Arguments

Figure 13: Few, On Either Side Of Debate, Change Minds About Employer Birth Control Coverage After Hearing Counter-Arguments

PROTECTIONS FOR PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING MEDICAL CONDITIONS

In June 2018, President Trump’s administration announced – as part of a lawsuit known as Texas v. United States, brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general – it will no longer defend the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. These provisions prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on a person’s medical history (known as guaranteed issue), and prohibit insurance companies from charging those with pre-existing conditions more for coverage (known as community rating). The impending suit, Texas v. United States, will decide, among other things, whether both of these protections are unconstitutional and if they will be deemed invalid beginning on January 1, 2019.

The majority of the public say it is “very important” to them that the ACA’s provisions protecting those with pre-existing conditions remain law even after hearing that these protections may have led to increased insurance costs for some healthy people. Sixty-five percent of the public say it is “very important” to them that the provision that prohibits health insurance companies from denying coverage because of a person’s medical history remains law. An additional fifth (22 percent) say it is “somewhat important” this provision remains law. Similarly, about six in ten say it is “very important” that the provision that prohibits health insurance companies from charging sick people more remains law, while an additional one in five (22 percent) say it is “somewhat important.”

Figure 14: Majorities Say Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Very Important To Them

Figure 14: Majorities Say Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Very Important To Them

If the judge ruling on Texas v. United States decides the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional, a majority of the public – including 87 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and about half of Republicans – say they would want their state to establish protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, even if this means some healthy people may pay more for coverage.

Figure 15: Majorities Say They Would Support State Action If ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Ruled Unconstitutional

Figure 15: Majorities Say They Would Support State Action If ACA’s Pre-Existing Condition Protections Are Ruled Unconstitutional